Broadband: Our buying guide


Fibre opticsWith every passing month, the number of things we rely on the internet for grows and grows. We use it to keep in touch with our loved ones, to buy clothes, to order groceries, to catch up on TV shows we’ve missed and look up sporting results. Given the central role a reliable broadband connection has, what do you need to consider when buying a new plan or upgrading your existing one?

How fast does the connection need to be?

The speed you need depends on your intended use. Generally speaking, the more people using the one connection and the more video content you expect to use, the faster a connection you need. Officially, broadband speeds start at 256 kilobits per second, though this is quite a slow speed by modern standards. In metropolitan areas, speeds can regularly reach 12,000kbps, or 12 megabytes per second.

The speed you choose will, in part, be determined by your choice of connection type. In metropolitan areas there are typically a wide range of options, while in rural regions your options may be more limited. Ranging from slowest to fastest, the major types are ADSL, ADSL2+, Cable and Fibre. In some cases it may not be possible to get a fixed-line connection, and instead you may need to get either a wireless or satellite connection. These can potentially offer comparable speeds to ADSL2+, but can suffer from disruptions in service.

The benefits of the NBN

The National Broadband Network connection speed starts at the maximum possible for the old copper network, 12mbps, and caps out at 100,000kbps, or 100 mbps – well and truly faster than any cable broadband connection. The NBN rollout promises greater choice and much faster speeds for most people, although nationwide implementation isn’t expected to be rolled out for many years. If the NBN has reached your area, it is well worth investigating an upgrade.

How much data allowance do I need?

Like speed, the amount of data you need depends on your intended use. People who live alone and only use the internet to send emails and do online banking will need only a small amount of data. On the other hand, large families who use the internet to watch videos, play games online and make online video calls will need much more.

A 2013 study by the Australian Communications and Media Authority found that the typical Australian uses 107.9 gigabytes of data every quarter, or 36GB per month, equivalent to approximately 12,288 songs a month! This is, of course, only an average and your individual needs may vary. Nevertheless, it may be a useful estimate to allow at least 36GB per person, per month in any plan you look into.

How much am I willing to pay?

Entry-level broadband plans can start from as little as $20 a month and rise to more than $100. The price you pay will depend on the type of connection, the maximum speed and the data allowance. Faster plans with more data are of course going to be more expensive than slower plans with less data. Broadband is often also available in bundles, which can include your home phone or cable TV. Keeping all these services together with the same provider can lead to significant savings and is definitely worth investigating.

Another factor to consider is the consequences of your exceeding the data limit. While limits are becoming far less common for fixed line connections, many wireless plans may include an excess usage charge, whereupon you are charged money for all data used after your initial allotment. If you don’t keep an eye on usage, the costs of this charge can rack up very quickly. Fortunately, most internet plans these days use what’s known as “shaping” – after you use your initial allowance, you aren’t charged more money but simply have your speed slowed down. Of course, it can still be a shock when your lightning-fast internet suddenly slows to a crawl.

Does it include installation? If not, am I prepared to set it up myself?

When you buy a new internet plan, one of the hurdles to look out for is installation. Depending on the plan you choose, there may be a one-off initial connection fee, an installation fee and a fee for the necessary hardware. The connection fee is often unavoidable, but depending on your technical knowhow (or friends with technical knowhow) and whether or not you already own a modem, you may be able to avoid the latter charges.

Installing a new broadband connection is not terribly difficult but it can be challenging if you’ve never attempted something like it before, so paying for a professional may be worth the extra cost. You may already have your own modem, and many plans allow you to use your own, saving you some money. However, older modems may actually be slower than the maximum speed of your new connection, particularly if you’ve bought a cable plan or joined the NBN, so an upgrade may be worthwhile.

What about the contracts I need to sign? And should I secure my connection?

When looking for a new broadband plan, consider your needs carefully. Don’t be tempted by a flashy, high-speed, high-data-cap plan if you’re unlikely to actually use it – you’ll just be wasting your money on data and speed you don’t need. You should also carefully consider the contract length. Cheaper plans may come with extended contract lengths, with steep charges if you break the contract early. If you’re likely to move soon, it may be worth paying a bit more now for a more flexible plan.

The final thing to be careful of is network security. If your modem has wi-fi capabilities, as most these days do, it is important to secure your network. If you don’t, you could find strangers piggybacking on your connection and using up your data. Using a standard encryption protocol, like WPA or WPA2 with a password is often all that’s needed to keep your connection secure and is relatively easy to set up.

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